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Rise of the Super Bugs

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The term “antibiotic-free” is becoming more and more popular in food advertising these days. Take Subway for example; in March the company elevated their antibiotic-free policy and introduced a new antibiotic-free rotisserie-style chicken sub, and they plan to, “Nix antibiotics in all its meat by 2025.”

Why all this attention surrounding “antibiotic-free”? Here’s the scoop.

Antibiotics have long been added to livestock feed to treat sick animals, prevent them from getting sick in the first place, and boost growth. However, over the past decade scientists are discovering the rise of “superbugs,” those that are increasingly immune to existing antibiotics, more so the adverse health effects it can pose to humans.

“The time may come when penicillin can be bought by anyone in the shops. There is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.” — Alexander Fleming at his 1945 Nobel Prize lecture

A New Global War Interconnectivity makes this issue a global one as resistant strains can emerge and spill over from anywhere in the world. For instance, the nightmare NDM-1 was discovered in Sweden in 2008, but was found in 2009 and diagnosed in India, its place of origin as early as 2006! Today, the “superbug” has spread to more than 29 nations including Canada and the UK. In a more recent example last fall, MCR-1 was discovered in people and pigs in China. This “superbug” happens to be resistant to the last-resort drug colistin has spread to more than a dozen nations.

How much of a global problem? Take a look at Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy (CDEP)’s mapped antibiotic use in 69 countries and antimicrobial resistance in 39 countries.

Asia Pacific The demand for antibiotics steadily increases in the world’s antibiotic capital, India. Within a decade, pill consumption increased from 8 billion pills in 2001 and to 12.9 billion in 2010. According to a Bloomberg News investigation, three farmers of the 14 farms in one of India’s biggest poultry districts, admitted to using colistin — to treat bloodstream infections in newborns. According to the article the director of the CDEP, points out extensive antibiotics usage in countries like India is for prevention — instead of the treatment of diseases. In other words, antibiotics serve as a substitute for sanitization and hygiene.

Meanwhile in Vietnam, animal health authorities recently discovered a staggering number of cattle seafood farms feed their stock antibiotics to wane off diseases. Current regulations appear to be ineffective with widespread distribution of antibiotics and antimicrobial materials including several banned or restricted substances such as doxycycline, and tetracycline. While local farmers realize the substances create dependency, it’s almost crucial to keep their bread and butter health. At SCIEX we have produced a comprehensive Antibiotics HRMS Library that delivers the spectral composition of both doxycycline, tetracycline, and many more antibiotic compounds. Discover more >

European Union (EU) As a region, the EU has led the global war against antibiotics. In 1986, Sweden became the first country to regulate antibiotic growth promoters and in 2009 agriculture antibiotic sales reduced from an average of 45 tons of active substance to 15 tons. Sweden was followed by Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. However, while antibiotics use growth promoters have been banned in the EU since 2006, and vet only prescribed in the UK, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) approximates 25 000 deaths as a result of infections caused by resistant bacteria in the region.

United States (US) The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) recently reported that every year, more than 2 million Americans contract antibiotic-resistant infections and 23,000 deaths resulted from these infections. The livestock sector in the country accounts for about 80% of total annual consumption and even more concerning is about 20% are linked to foodborne pathogens. This illustrates the great spill of antibiotic superbugs transferring between humans and animals.

Be sure to catch Part 2 of this series wherein come the Guardians of Antibiotics as well as to learn more about SCIEX solutions!

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